What a way to start a season of football. A week out the weather forecast was terrible, and it did not get much better as the game neared. The news that the game was a sellout before the weekend was a surprise. I rolled into town and parked over three hours before the kickoff. The crowd was there early despite the weather forecast. The VOLWALK was special not only for the new players but also for the returning players due to the size of the crowd and the energy that they showed.
The rain arrived and poured as the teams warmed up. One thing I noted in the passing warm-ups, even in the driving rain the WR’s and QB’s were “HOT”. The balls were not hitting the ground. Early I counted 15 straight catches before a drop.
The crowd as a whole stayed in their seats during the rain. They were loud before the game and the place was rocking during the game. I have not missed a home game in over seven years and very few in the last twenty-five years, and in my opinion this was the loudest crowd for the ENTIRE GAME that I have seen. To go with that, they stayed until the end of the game!
On to the game, most National Media picked Utah State to win. Most local folks picked the Vols to win a close game. No one was really comfortable picking a score and I did not see one prediction of the score as it was when the game ended. We all knew or thought that we knew that the Vols would be better than last year. We were young but more talented and faster. I think that none of us foresaw the impact that combination would have on the Tennessee Defense.
First Key Point: The Vol’s speed enabled them to put pressure on the Utah players at every level and on every play. At times it seemed as if the Vols had sixteen players on the field. I watched the game replay today during the game I did not see a lot of missed tackles. In the replay I could see not only the player’s speed getting to the ball but also good form on their tackles. They put the Utah players on the ground. To me this was the best Vols Defense for a game in four years.
Second Key Point: The Vols WR’s & TE’s all played at another level higher than any game last year. They were open, caught the ball, and made yards after the catch. Last year drops and bad routes were consistent factors in stalling drives. This game they were factors in maintaining long drives that wore the Utah defense out over the game. There were eleven players with pass receptions and three TE’s had important receptions in drives. Did you notice that all of the TE’s and WR’s BLOCKED and did it well? Nine players had receptions for over ten yards.
Third Key Point: The Kicking Game worked. Coverage was excellent overall (one breakdown). One missed FG (the first) and the kicker said that the snap and hold were good, but he hit the grass behind the ball, his error. He was solid on all other kicks. It appears that he is not a “head case” and should be O.K. Punting early in the game was as good as I have seen. My seat allows me to judge the height of the kick as well as the distance. In the first half Darr was smoking the ball out of sight, past the bottom of the upper deck. In the early parts of the second half he lost the height but the coverage was so good we did not get burned. His last couple of punts were back on track and were boomed way above the bottom of the upper deck. On the returns we caught the ball and did not fumble. Jury is still out on our potential for a return threat.
Fourth Key Point: QB play. Worley at 71 % completions for the game with four drops by my count. He hit guys moving so they could get yards after their catches. He hit eleven different receivers WR’s, TE’s, and RB’s. Does that keep everyone in the game? I think so. Charting the completions and attempts, he hit guys behind the line, past the line (under the 1st Down marker), past the first down markers, deep down the field (15 + Yards), and threw deep sideline passes. A point that impressed me was that he did it on BOTH sides of the field. That forces the defense to cover everyone that is eligible to catch a pass on every play. I heard one TV guy say that Worley will never be a 60% passer but he can hit the short throws enough to get by. O.K. maybe. He also picked Utah to win the game.
Concerns: First. The running game, we did not run the ball consistently. At times we were able to run the ball inside with power for several first downs with both RB’s. However, we had too many runs for no gain due to the penetration of the Utah players into the backfield. I was going to say that we were unable to run the ball outside the tackles consistently but as I look at the game I do not think we used the RB’s for sweeps or the “Student Body” outside runs. One side note on this is that the Utah LB’s were their best and most experienced players on defense. Second: the loss of Gilliam at Left OT. Utah State ran Blitzes from everywhere but most of their Blitzes were from the left side. Who will replace him?
Things to look for: Butch seldom plays all his cards early in the season. I expect to see TE’s go deep up the middle and to run slants into the middle. I expect to see Slot WR’s run deep middle slants and deep middle fly routes. It was noted by the game guys that reviewed the Utah defense that they were really concerned about the Vols speed and that they were keeping the safeties between the hash marks most of the time.
Next game is against another Arkansas State a Bowl Winner that wants to win against the SEC. Their QB is fast. He runs and throws. They won big last weekend. They have some speed at skill slots and as a rule they have a number of players who dropped down to their level from “Major Schools”. Their profile is a lot like that of Utah State but their conference is not as strong or successful as the Mountain West.
Be There and Be Loud!!